ONTARIO — “Another fifty to sixty yards and he would have made it, that’s how close he was,” said Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe this morning about a plane that ran out of fuel just before it reached the Ontario Municipal Airport on Monday.
The crash happened at about 12:57 p.m.
The pilot, 88-year-old Jack Walker, of Yellow, Pine, Idaho, was able to clear the power lines on Southwest 18th Avenue, according to the sheriff, before crashing down into some farm equipment, then into a fence that borders the airport.
Walker hit the windshield, suffering some facial injuries and ended up being transported to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center – Ontario.
Dan Beaubien, manager, Ontario Municipal Airport, said “Every time another pilot goes down the rest of us are like, ‘Is he OK?’”
According to a hospital spokesman, he was then transported to Boise, where he is listed as in serious condition.
“Serious means vital signs may be unstable and indicators are questionable,” the spokesman said. “It’s not critical, which is good.”
Wolfe said that Walker, who also has a residence here in Vale, was operating a Cessna 180, which is a single-engine aircraft with two seats.
The Sheriff’s Office was assisted by Oregon State Police and Treasure Valley Paramedics.
Wolfe said there was no indication of impairment, and that the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board have both been notified of the crash.
The damaged fence won’t impede operations at the airport, according to Beaubien, and the cost to repair it is unknown at this time, but will “probably go through insurance.”
For their part of the investigation, the NTSB will determine the cause by looking at factors such as pilot or plane error, mechanical failure and wind, and publish the results when they are done.
“This gives pilots a chance to understand and learn from it, so we don’t make the same mistake,” Beaubien said, adding that if Walker’s plane “had gone ten feet higher and ten feet longer, he would have been in the airport.”